Friday, December 31, 2004

Around the country both private contractors and government scientists are working on perfecting "green" buildings, homes and offices that require only a fraction of the energy that present buildings do.

For example, in Charlotte a "Green Communities" initiative was recently launched by an unusual housing-environmental alliance.

Leaders of the effort are the Enterprise Foundation, a premier national affordable housing provider founded by the late developer-urbanist James Rouse, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the country's top environmental organizations pushing green building initiatives.

These groups aim to inspire and lead the building over the next five years of 8,500 environmentally friendly affordable homes, using the $550 million they're already well on the way to raising and another half billion dollars they expect the project to leverage. Just as significant, they expect to provide a wave of training, encouragement and technical assistance to help developers across the country "go green."

"Our grand design is to lead the way and make `green' criteria the normal way everyone builds affordable housing, because it makes so much sense, both economically and environmentally," says Bart Harvey, the Enterprise Foundation's chairman and CEO.

Other green housing initiatives have started in Seattle, Fresno, Portland, and Boston.

In Seattle, the 9th and Stewart Life Sciences Building is the city's newest green building, an 11-story building incorporates sustainable design features that make it a welcome, future-oriented addition to the cityscape. A high-ceiling, west-facing lobby is bathed in natural light, cheerful even on a gray day. A terrazzo floor is made of glossy pieces of green, gray and black recycled glass. Visitors are greeted with the soothing sound of a water fountain, created by local artist Joe MacDonald, that uses netting and turquoise, amber and red recycled glass balls to symbolize rejuvenation.

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is working on a " near-zero-energy house" that features airtight envelope construction, advanced structural insulated panel systems, insulated precast concrete walls, a heat pump water heater, geothermal systems, grid-connected solar photovoltaics, adaptive mechanical ventilation, cool roof and wall coatings with infrared reflective pigments, and solar integrated raised metal seam roofs. The houses use fifty percent less energy than normal houses and they are aiming for 100% efficiency in the future.

This is an area that is not getting the publicity it deserves and it is primarily restricted to government subsidized, low income homes. But the technology is being developed and materials prices being brought down. All that is needed for a breakthrough is an incentive.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Water--the next OPEC?

With fresh water supplies dwindling; aquifers shrinking, pollution, waterborne disease, and shifts in rain patterns caused by global warming all threatening the access to fresh water in many parts of the world, water imports are rapidly becoming big business,

Some experts say the next cartel will be an organization of water-exporting countries. Others see more danger in local privatization of water, which could restrict access to the poor within nations.

"Water is blue gold, it's terribly precious," says Maude Barlow, who chairs for the Council of Canadians, an Ottawa-based citizens' watchdog. "Not too far in the future, we're going to see a move to surround and commodify the world's fresh water. Just as they've divvied up the world's oil, in the coming century there's going to be a grab."

Already, pipelines for bulk water shipments are under consideration between Scotland and water-short England. Similar plans exist for Turkey to pipe water to central Europe and markets in Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, and Malta. In the late 1990s, Aquarius Water Transportation became the first company to tow bags of fresh water for export, delivering commercial bulk quantities to the Greek Islands. In 2000, Nordic Water Supply, began using 5 million gallon bags - 10 times as big as the original Aquarius containers - to float water from Turkey to northern Cyprus.

"It is impossible to overestimate the importance of pure water supply," said A. Fred Paley, president of Global H2O Resources, in a statement. "Many communities in over 50 counties throughout the world are suffering needlessly because water is either insufficient or polluted or may not exist at all."

His Vancouver, British Columbia, company says it has acquired exclusive rights to 4.8 billion gallons of glacier water a year for 30 years under a license granted by Alaska and the city of Sitka. So far, Global has been selling premium bottled "glacier-fed water" - but is eyeing bulk shipments to Asia and the Middle East. In September, the company announced it had been approved to build a loading pier in Sitka, capable of handling 50,000-ton ships.

Bottled water sales have grown to $50 billion worldwide, much of the growth coming in developing countries. China's consumption nearly quadrupled between 1997 and 2002 to 2.6 million gallons. Already there have been disputes over groundwater, particularly in the United States, between bottled-water companies and local residents. But with the lives of some 35 million people threatened over the next decade by inadequate water supplies, the demand will only grow larger.

Once again, this is an example of the world reaching the limits of its carrying capacity for humans, and the extraordinary efforts being made to head off the impending disaster. But with world population expected to grow by another 3 billion by mid century, even these efforts may not be enough.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

A Japanese research group has made a major advance in the generation of solar energy. Professor Takeo Saito of the Graduate School of Environmental Studies, Tohoku University have developed a small, highly efficient solar power system with a solar energy conversion efficiency between 16 and 20 percent. It's power generation is double that of solar cells and 1.5 times that of fuel cellls.

This system uses the Rankine cycle system, in which water heated by solar energy heats up hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) fluids to between 120 to 200 degrees Celsius. The vaporized HCFC is sprayed through a small nozzle at a supersonic speed of Mach 2 to 3 to drive the turbine and generate electricity. The group spent 12 years to develop this system, achieving high efficiency through a combination of over ten features, including the rotor shape.

The developers hope to lower the power generation cost to about $1835 per kilowatt from the current cost of photovoltaic power generation at about $6,422 per kilowatt. If the system is installed at home, water heated during the daytime can also be used for a 24-hour hot water supply and room heating system.

Monday, December 20, 2004

This is a new on on me:

Kites could create clean energy, say scientists

HIGH-ALTITUDE kites could be used to generate clean energy at a cost comparable with that of pollution-causing power stations, researchers claim.

The "Laddermill" is a chain of controllable wing-like kites attached to a looped cable stretching more than five miles into the sky.

Strong winds acting on the "kitewings" produce an upward force on one side of the loop and a downward force on the other, causing it to rotate.

The slowly-turning cable drives a power generator in the Laddermill base station.

Although the concept sounds far-fetched, its developers at Delft Technical University in the Netherlands hope to build a model within four years.

They claim one Laddermill could generate 100 megawatts of electricity, compared with only a few megawatts from a conventional wind turbine.

The team leader, Professor Wubbo Ockels, was inspired by making powerful high-flying kites as a boy.

Winds at 30,000ft are 20 times more powerful than at sea level. Prof Ockels, a former astronaut and head of the European Space Agency’s education office, told the Engineer magazine: "Above a certain altitude there is a massive amount of wind power. Kites that can tap into that wind can generate a great deal of energy."

At last month’s European Wind Energy Conference in London, the Laddermill team announced plans to test a variety of kiteplane designs next year using inflatable and lightweight materials.

They say despite its size, the structure would be safe.

"If the wind dropped, the Laddermill would drift gently to the ground," said Prof Ockels.

Go for it!

Thursday, December 09, 2004

A hotbed of energy waits to be tapped in Indonesia |

Sitting on some 500 volcanoes - the world's highest concentration, known as the "ring of fire" - Indonesia could generate enough geothermal energy to electrify the entire country.

By using steam generated by lava flows under inactive volcanoes, geothermal power in the sprawling archipelago could generate more than 20,000 megawatts of electricity - an estimated 40 percent of the world's total geothermal reserves.

Instead, Indonesia's geothermal generation is just 800 megawatts, as leaders have focused instead on the country's hefty reserves of lucrative fossil fuels.

This, in theory, could change in the wake of the long-awaited ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by Russia last month, which set the stage for the global treaty to go into effect. But early signs suggest that the treaty's incentives are not luring renewable-energy investment in places like Indonesia, prompting efforts to fix the system's flaws.

The protocol assigns targets for greenhouse-gas emissions that are considered a major factor in global warming. Countries that exceed their targets can either reduce domestic emissions or buy credits from other countries. One of the ways they can purchase these credits is by funding environmentally friendly projects in developing countries under the so-called Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

This would make renewable-energy efforts like geothermal, which has languished in Indonesia and elsewhere due to concerns over expense and risk, a potential magnet for millions of dollars in new investment.